Almost a year ago, I was sitting in the office of the head of the Political Security apparatus in Damascus, to get an approval for a new passport instead of that stolen in Thailand. I was sitting there, listening to him as he read out loud my father’s file, and counted the number of arrest warrants with his name. That was less than a week after my parents’ death.
He rolled up in his big fancy leather chair, and said, “What exactly guarantees, that if we do give you a new passport, you wont go and turn out to be an asshole like your father?” I closed my eyes, swallowed myself, and let my uncle do the talking.
2 days later, I walked out of the immigration bureau of Homs with a brand new passport, and the freedom to leave anytime I wanted. Less than a week later I was boarding a plane to Egypt and eventually back to Japan.
That flight was probably the worst, and darkest two hours I’ve ever had to go through. My sense of abandonment was the only individual thing I could put my hands on. Everything else was just blurry, and painful.
I looked around as I was leaving and couldn’t think of a single reason for me to come back. I couldn’t find any part of me in anyone or anything here. I remember thinking back then of what a pathetic, deformed and fragile generation I was representing.
Followed by the most terrible year of my life in Japan. I had to literally deconstruct my own sense of identity. This pathetic, deformed and fragile identity that grew through years of the most honest forms of make-believe and doublethink. One that promised to collapse under any pressure, to leave me, at 21, completely naked and defenseless, sitting in a plane heading nowhere.
I’ve hit rock bottom this last year. The feeling that took over me at these moments was one of utter homelessness. There was not a single place where I felt any sense of belonging, not even within myself.
Now, as I look back at last year, I realize that I’ve completely come a full circle since that October. While I am nowhere closer to reconstructing my own sense of identity, I do feel like I already have the means to do it. And it will take years before I fully comprehend why and how this happened, this sudden collapse of everything I knew as part of me.
During the last month I spent here, a tremendous amount of recovery happened. Walking through the narrow alleys of the old city of Tartous tempted me to venture into the few old houses that still survive in my own Latakia, to talk to their people and listen to their stories. The little camel arcs that I saw while I was walking through this strange mix of new ugly facades and old rocks felt like they were filling a real empty spot in my mind.
I felt so close to this place, I felt like we were going through the same exact crisis. My Latakia too had a collapse in its own sense of identity. It wasn’t sudden, and it was more like someone shattering a fine china plate, but the end result was almost the same. I, like many others now, was living on the very edge of the cliff. The whole country is living off the edge of a cliff.
The only thing that I can see clearly around me is this collective lack of belonging. This collective collapse of everything people were building as their identity. Not many are conscious of what is happening, but even them, you can see them desperately trying to hold on to anything that may be saved.
It is truly sad to see this happening, in a sense. But it also offers a real chance to truly change. To try to reconstruct together our own national identity, just as we do with our own personal one. To start critiquing ourselves, and our world more consciously. To dust off our own layers and layers of cement and ugly facades and look what’s underneath. To read our own history more critically, and reconnect with it. To regain a long lost sense of dignity and humanity. To try and let this generation recognize its problems, and express them.
It’s a monumental challenge. But it doesn’t seem like any of the people in power is willing to recognize it. Everybody seems happy to just surrender this place and its people to this strange mix of old wooden language, mazot and mega projects.